On 22nd February 2021 the UK Government published the ‘COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021‘, which sets out the roadmap for coming out of the current lockdown in England. The Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive have also announced how they plan to lift the current coronavirus restrictions, but how and when will the changes affect the COVID-19 wedding restrictions and rules?
In this Guide
In England a four-step plan has been outlined to ease restrictions over time. For each step, anyone working at a wedding ceremony or reception is not included in the limits…
Step 1 – From 29th March
Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies can take place with up to six people in attendance, with the previous only ‘under exceptional circumstances’ stipulation lifted. Wedding receptions are still not permitted, but small gatherings can take place outdoors for a group of up to six people, or two households.
Step 2 – No Earlier than 12th April
The maximum number of guests allowed at weddings and civil partnership ceremonies will increase to 15 people, with receptions for up to 15 people permitted outside (but in the form of a sit-down meal and guests should remain seated). Outdoor venues must be COVID-secure, permitted to open, and although they can be partially sheltered they must not be enclosed or substantially enclosed. As an example, for a marquee the wall area must be at least 50% open.
Although receptions under these limits must not take place in private gardens or public outside spaces, small gatherings can still take place outdoors for a group of up to six people, or two households.
Step 3 – No Earlier than 17th May
Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, and receptions, can take place with up to 30 guests, and receptions can now take place in a COVID-secure indoor venue, or outdoors. The government will release further details on receptions at this step soon.
Step 4 – No Earlier than 21st June
Subject to the outcome of the scientific Events Research Programme, the government plans to remove all limits on weddings, civil partnership ceremonies and receptions.
Scotland’s Coronavirus timetable for easing restrictions states that on 26th April they plan to increase the guest number limit for wedding ceremonies and receptions to 50, with no alcohol permitted. They have currently provided no further details on restrictions beyond May.
Before 26th April the number allowed to attend a wedding or civil partnership ceremony is five, and the venue capacity must allow for 2m social distancing between attendees. The limit of five, which includes the couple, witnesses and officiant, is increased to six if an interpreter is required.
These limits apply for all ceremonies, regardless of where they are taking place. Although ceremonies can take place inside a private dwelling the Scottish government advises this should only happen when it is not possible for it to take place outside or in a public venue.
In Wales, from 12th April wedding venues can let prospective clients view their premises by appointment only, with further details on the lifting of restrictions yet to be announced.
Currently wedding and civil partnership ceremonies must take place indoors and in approved venues. Under the current COVID-19 wedding restrictions the venue’s capacity when allowing for two metre social distancing measures between households determines the number of people allowed to attend a wedding or civil partnership ceremony. The maximum number allowed includes the celebrant, registration officials, the couple and their witnesses.
Travel is restricted to those party to the wedding or civil partnership, those invited to the ceremony, and any carers of those attending. People travelling from the same household should travel together and should not travel with others from different households.
The regulations in Northern Ireland will be reviewed on 15th April.
Currently, although up to 25 people may attend a wedding ceremony, any event with more than 15 people requires a risk assessment. Although the government states that you must not leave or be outside your home, except where necessary, you may leave your home to attend a wedding or civil partnership ceremony.
Staying Safe During a Wedding Ceremony
As well as the rules on attendee numbers and travel there are extra guidelines the government has given to help people reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus when attending a wedding ceremony.
The social distancing guidelines of 2 metres (or 1 metre where 2 metres is not possible) between households still apply at wedding ceremonies in England. In Scotland and Wales the venue must allow for 2m social distancing between households. These restrictions do of course mean that sadly attendees won’t be able to hug or kiss loved ones outside of their household.
All attendees, including the couple, guests and venue staff, must wear a face covering in line with government COVID-19 guidance and legislation. The NHS advises that when indoors you should wear a face covering at all times when around anyone who is not in your social bubble.
Unless exempt, guests must wear a face covering at all times during a wedding or civil partnership ceremony. In England the officiant and the couple should also wear face coverings, although the couple can remove theirs during their vows (unless requested not to by the officiant) and for ‘the kiss’.
The Welsh government advises that those leading a ceremony do not need to wear a face covering if it is impractical to do so. However, they should consider ways to ensure they can provide a barrier to transmission such as distancing, screens, visors and extra hygiene measures. The couple do not need to wear a face covering during the walk down the aisle, the vows, the first kiss and photos taken indoors.
Since 16th October 2020, in Scotland the couple do not need to wear a face covering during the ceremony as long as they are at least two metres away from everyone else or separated by a partition.
The Church of England advises that during church weddings the bride and groom and those officiating do not have to wear face masks.
As COVID-19 spreads through small droplets and aerosols, singing, playing some musical instruments and shouting increases the risk of transmission. The government therefore advises that communal singing should not take place at a wedding or civil partnership ceremony, even with social distancing observed or face coverings worn.
Singing or chanting essential to the solemnisation of a marriage or civil partnership ceremony should be restricted to one person where possible, with up to three individuals when essential. If recordings are available the COVID-19 wedding guidelines suggest these are used as an alternative to live singing.
Shouting and playing instruments you blow into should also be avoided, and recorded music should not be played at a volume that may result in raised voices or shouting.